At the Broadway Box Office It's 'Hooray for Hollywood'

Keenly aware that a motion picture has to be reconceived for theatrical presentation, and that the resulting stage work has to stand on its own, transcending comparisons with the original film, Disney Theatrical Productions President Thomas Schumacher took the bold chance of entrusting "The Lion King" to Julie Taymor, the renowned experimental theater veteran versed in mime, Indonesian dance-theater and Japanese shadow puppetry.

The choice paid off brilliantly when Taymor helmed a staggeringly successful artistic and commercial result.

For Disney's next toon-to-tuner adaptation, "The Little Mermaid," based on the 1989 animated movie blockbuster of the same name, Schumacher has made another audacious choice, extending an invitation to the international opera director Francisca Zambello to make her Broadway debut.

An American who grew up in Europe, Zambello launched her American directorial career at the Houston Grand Opera with a 1984 production of Beethoven's "Fidelio." From there, she has gone on to mount operas all over the world, including the world premieres of "An American Tragedy," "Cyrano" and "Les Troyens" at the Metropolitan Opera.

Zambello and her design team are tasked with the mission of creating the magical, underwater universe of Ariel, the beautiful, headstrong 16-year-old little mermaid.

"The Little Mermaid" gives its first performance on July 27 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colo. It travels to Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Nov. 3, with an official opening night scheduled for Dec. 6.

On July 29, two days after the unveiling of "The Little Mermaid" in Denver, "Beauty and the Beast," will conclude its 13-year Main Stem run. At that time, its estimated cumulative Broadway gross will approach $450 million, and its worldwide gross will exceed $1.4 billion.

Although those staggering sums suggest that Disney has a monopoly on the film-to-stage blockbuster, in March 2001, Mel Brooks took Broadway by storm with "The Producers," the riotous musical version of his 1968 cult film comedy of the same name, and four months later, "Hairspray," based on John Waters' classic cult movie of the same of name, became the first big hit of the 2002-2003 theater season. Both productions continue their merry Broadway runs.

Undoubtedly inspired by the profitability of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Producers," at the outset of 2002, another entertainment-corporation legend, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, launch MGM On Stage, a subsidiary devoted exclusively to developing and licensing stage versions of properties in MGM's 4,100-title film and television library.

MGM On Stage's movie-made musicals include Broadway's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," the London and Broadway productions of "Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang," a Boston production of "Marty," "Midnight Cowboy," which debuted at Edinburgh Festival, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," currently enjoying a successful run in Sydney, Australia, and "Legally Blonde," a $10-million musical adaptation of the riotous Reese Witherspoon Valley-Girl-Goes-to-Harvard movie comedy (based on Amanda Brown's novel), currently breaking in at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre prior to April 3 residency at Broadway's Palace Theatre.

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